Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review The Rose Tattoo
It's not a calculated freak show, like a lot of newer works, nor is it mawkish and sentimental, like a hundred other mismatched-relationship comedies over the last 100 years, dating back to Abie's Irish Rose (1922). Playwright Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend's script was first presented in the Prism Theatre's "Festival of New Works" as a staged reading last year. In a full staging, it manages to carve out its own fresh new space in a well-traveled genre. Its big city heroine flails away beautifully, as any good fish-out-of-water must, under the natural, whimsical direction of Trish Brown.
In the story, Liz and her husband Dave have moved back to his hometown, into a trailer home amidst the rattlesnakes and scorpions, and she's visibly pregnant, and frequently alone (except for the aforementioned wildlife). But the ghosts of her two grandmothers soon appear, filling the space with withering New York commentary, as well as their own grim stories of struggling to raise children and also the occasional encouraging remark. Maggie Lehman is delightful as Liz, and Mike DePope's Dave is earnest, energetic, and comedically clever getting back in touch with his Texas roots.
Ryan Burns easily fills up the other half of the show, adroitly playing a long list of husbands, children, bosses and co-workers in the stories the grandmothers tell. At one point, somewhat improbably, he plays the ghost of Robert F. Kennedy, badgered by the other two ghosts in their attempts to cheer the mother-to-be. I don't know what it means that this one actor does nearly all the hard work in this show and is enigmatically listed as "Ensemble Man." But thank goodness for his many fully realized contributions.
Leslie Wobbe and Jenni Ryan play the grandmothers with confidence and unselfconsciousness. They are cast back in time, in their stories, reliving many worse moments than Liz confronts now in the Texas high country. It's a perfect little story, even if you feel like you've seen it all before. Bandera, Texas still has its own original twists and turns. And, if her grandmothers are speaking to her from inside her own soul, from some hard-wired genetics buried deep inside, it's because she can finally think of who she is in this frontier setting. And not a moment too soon, for a mother-to-be.
Bandera, Texas runs through September 4, 2022, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Avenue, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information please visit www.prismtheatrecompany.org.
Cast (in order of appearance)